In order to study or work well, you want the least possible distractions. Those who decorate their study in a smart way are able to concentrate better. Plants in a room, to name just one example, will increase your powers of concentration. This article will give you five specific tips about how to do this

No doubt, you have on occasion had too many things to do in too little time. At those instances, you need to divide your attention over various tasks, but because you do so you achieve less and you make more mistakes. You can prevent this by focusing on a single task. Also, you won’t feel the stress you experience when you’re multi-tasking. (Paridon & Kaufmann, 2010).

Placing all your attention on one task is the solution. But this is easier said than done. How to make sure you will not be distracted by all sorts of stimuli?

That we’re distracted is not something ‘bad’ per se. The underlying mechanism that distracts us also helps us to survive. Imagine you’re walking along with a friend and you two are having a discussion. At the moment you want to cross a street a car sounds his horn; you immediately jump back on the curb. The horn distracts you from the discussion, but also makes sure you don’t end up under the car. It’s a welcome distraction.

On the other hand there are unwelcome distractions. Imagine you’re in your study late at night and your goal is to finally read that final chapter of a hefty novel. Then a party at your neighbour’s house can be very distracting.

Both examples show the same mechanism at work, more or less. You’re being distracted because your senses pick up information from your surroundings that could be important for your chance of survival. Because it can only be judged in retrospect whether the information is significant, your senses aren’t too critical about what they pick up. A single error could be fatal. The consequences, however, are very different. In the first situation the distraction is welcome, and in the second it isn’t.

In order to be able to work well, you want to achieve two things: to focus well and to restrict unwanted distraction to the minimum. The decoration of your study or home office can help you with this.

You can spend attention on the following subjects in your study or home office:


  1. The presence of plants;
  2. Light the room with a colour temperature of 4000 K;
  3. Lower the temperature;
  4. Reduce the background noise in the house;
  5. Make sure there’s sufficient amount of privacy and control.

1. The presence of plants

Plants in your room increase your attention when you’re working on a tiresome task (Raanaas e.a., 2010), like studying. The explanation for this is that looking at nature, a potted plant in this case, has a healing working. Your ‘attention muscle’ is able to recharge, making you less tired. Another explanation could be that looking at natural objects reduces stress by making you feel less tired and enabling you to concentrate more easily (Raanaas e.a., 2010).

Psychological research into the effect of nature (like potted plants or a view on nature) on the office workers points in the same direction. Employees are happier if there’s a view on ‘greener elements’ (Kaplan, 1993). This happiness also appears to be related with scoring well on stress-related subjects and health. Furthermore, the presence of plants at the office seems to have a positive effect on the employees’ health (Fjeld et al., 1998, 2002).

Unfortunately, too little well-funded research has been done in order to draw firm conclusions as to the effect of plants in the office. Studies that aren’t specifically aimed at offices show that nature has a positive effect on the stress levels of people in a general sense (Paridon-kaufmann-2010, Shamsul-2013).

2. Well lit

The kind of lighting you use will also influence your ability to concentrate (Shamsul e.a., 2013). White light is most often used in lighting, but there are a number of different ‘types’ to be distinguished: warm white light (3000 K), cold white light (4000 K) and artificial daylight (6500 K).

Research shows that studying goes best with cold white light (of about 4000 K). This way, people [Fv2] can carry on studying for a longer period and make less mistakes when writing. Additionally people feel it’s a pleasant light temperature. (Shamsul e.a., 2013).

A lighting intensity that is too low, for example if a lamp doesn’t shine bright enough, will make the central nerve system less active. The body gets ready to rest, which we interpret as sleepiness (Smolders e.a., 2012). A higher lighting intensity will ensure people feel less sleepy, can focus on a task longer and need a shorter response time.

If the powers of concentration need to be increased while working or studying, it’s recommended to light a room with a 40000 K lamp (you can find the colour temperature of a light bulb in the small print on the package. A comparison (in Dutch) of lumen and watt can be found on this site of the Consumentenbond (Dutch consumer organisation).

3. Temperature

Scientific studies have found that of room temperatures measuring 20, 23 or 26 degrees centigrade, the lowest temperature ensures the highest state of alertness (Tham & Willem, 2009). The temperature influences the central nervous system just like lighting, a lower temperature activates the nervous system keeping you on alert. Although these temperatures are experienced as the least comfortable, it does suggest that lower temperatures raise the awareness. Of course, extremely low temperatures are undesirable because then you might be distracted by the cold.

4. Unpredictable or predictable distractions

Unknown or unannounced changes are the hardest to ignore for people. Predictable changes, however, can easily be ignored. A familiar example is a train racing past your office window every fifteen minutes so that you don’t notice it anymore.

In the same way announced changes can be ignored easily (Horváth & Bendixen, 2011). Just imagine you hear a door opening in the hallway and when person passes your room a bit later, you can easily ignore him because you knew he was coming. The information of knowing something is about to change, gives you control over the situation, you’re able to anticipate.

Besides predictable sounds, speech in the background can also be a distraction. If people are distracted by speech, this has the consequence they will make more mistakes in writing and their short-term memory is weakened (Liebl e.a., 2011).

If you wish to concentrate on working or studying, it’s wise to sit in a place you’re familiar with (the circumstances will be predictable in that case) and where there are few unpredictable background noises. Acoustic isolation of your room could help, it reduces background noises.

5. What’s the best spot in a room?

Sometimes you enter a room to study or work that has various open seats. Where do you sit? Will you work better in the spot you prefer or not? Wang and Boubekri (2010) investigated this matter with a sun-filled room. Their study found that the best study results weren’t achieved in the most popular window seats (with lots of light and a view), but those in the corner across from the window. People sitting in those seats enjoy more privacy and control over their surroundings than people sitting at the window.

If you’re able to choose between various workplaces, keep in mind your need for privacy and a sense of control. The test persons in the study weren’t aware of this effect and opted for a place that looked nice, but didn’t necessarily improve their achievements.

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